Cole Porter’s “Let’s Face It” may never be ready for a Broadway revival, but in its concert-version form at the newly arrived Lost Musicals series, the 1941 musical is the perfect antidote for a city besieged. There are better Porter scores to be heard, but none so undeservedly ignored. And with a total of 16 songs, the legendary composer-lyricist certainly wasn’t stingy with a talent that skewered everything from overweight matrons (“Milk Milk Milk”) to lisping Latin singers (“A Little Rhumba Numba”). PC it ain’t.
Somewhat less remarkable is the book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields. Three unloved society matrons make the moves on three young soldiers, invoking the wrath of their three girlfriends, who in turn seduce the three husbands of the aforementioned ladies. The Fieldses obviously had faith in the seductive power of unholy trinities; in Ian Marshall Fisher’s adept but necessarily minimalist staging, these trios keep circling each other until everybody ends up right back where they started, happier and wiser for the detour.
In its review of the original Broadway production, starring Danny Kaye and Eve Arden, Variety dismissed the “weak” book. Sixty years later, it doesn’t play half-bad, and in its unexpurgated and unaltered form, as presented here, “Let’s Face It” delivers considerable pleasures. (Top of the list: It’s really nice to know the show’s occasional well-placed zinger is not the result of fiddling by John Guare or Wendy Wasserstein.)
But even at their best, the Fieldses are no Cole Porter. Who else would rhyme “squirmin’ ” with “ermine”? Or in his send-up of high society (“A Lady Needs a Rest”) observe the trials of “rooting for the Russians without being called a Red”?
The musical impresses most in its ability to be adult and naughty, to exhume an old word, while still retaining its sunny optimism. From “Chicago” to “Urinetown,” Broadway’s more recent non-kiddie fare tends to pride itself on a patent chic decadence. When Porter gives a nod to sado-masochism, in “You Irritate Me So,” he finds the sexual kick of a lover’s maddening peculiarities to be as normal as champagne over chipped ice.
The role of soldier Jerry Walker is vintage Danny Kaye. To his credit, David Pittu (a last-minute replacement for Kevin Chamberlin) does not go the antic route, instead bringing a hang-dog insouciance to the proceedings, caught as he is in the cross-fire between the expert comic timing of Catherine Cox, the evening’s sex-starved matron, and the superlative chops of Linda Romoff, his outraged fiancee.
David Costabile literally stops the show with “Rhumba Numba,” then delightfully gooses it back to life. Also memorable are Jim Stanek and Marcy Harriell, who turn the lament “You Irritate Me So” into an enchanting turn-on.
Everyone’s singing style is blissfully true to the period — no modern riffing here — and it is musical heaven to hear singing voices completely unamplified. Performances continue on Sunday and Monday.